The Downfall of Macbeth

By Dianna McGinn

The Cause of Macbeth's Downfall

Although Macbeth the 3 witches and his wife influenced him, he was ultimately to blame. Macbeth was a man of respect and loyalty, up until he meets the 3 witches and he starts his downward spiral into madness. Upon meeting the witches, they praise him, addressing him by 3 titles, one of which he already has : thane of Glamis. However, the last title affects him the most, the claim that he will be king. The second title comes to him only few minutes after the event with the witches, Ross brings news that the king has given Macbeth the title of 'thane of Cawdor'.Once he hears this he starts to believe the witches may have told the truth. His mindset changes drastically in these moments as he starts talking to himself: " I am thane of Cawdor . If good, why do I yield to that suggestion whose horrid image doth unfix my hair"(Macbeth 1.3.137-39). The suggestion he speaks of is killing the current king, king Duncan. Even before the persuasion from his wife, he already has thoughts about murdering the king, his wife only encourages it. Macbeth could've easily accepted the new title and waited patiently for the title of king to come along; however,his 'pushover' attitude, eventually changed him into an unfeeling psychopath. An example of him being a pushover/easily influenced comes only a few scenes later when he is talking to his wife about killing Duncan in his sleep. "We will proceed no further in this business. He hath honored me of later, and I have bought Golden opinions from all sorts of peoples" ( Macbeth 1.7.31-33), at first he refuses the idea, but with only a few minutes of convincing from his wife he changes his mind to go through with the plan. All it takes is a little nudge for Macbeth's underlying ambition and hope for him to agree with her plan. This also shows how Macbeth thinks little for himself at this point, had he refused her he would've become king of his own time. However ,is determination morphs from 'become to king' to 'maintain the king status no matter what it takes', starting with the murder of Banquo. Banquo makes Macbeth feel unsafe, as the witches prophecies said Banquo would spawn a whole line of kings. His reasoning being that he only advanced Banquo's son's chance at being king, and "Given to the common enemy of man, to make them kings, the seed of Banquo kings! Rather than so, come fate into the list, and champion me to th' utterance. Who’s there?" (Macbeth 3.1.72-75). Macbeth is acting purely on his own, his ambition only pushing him farther and farther. With this act he has already secured his own demise, for if Banquo makes him feel threatened, what would stop anyone else from making Macbeth feel unsafe? Macbeth did not have to kill Banquo, he probably would have been quite happy for him, but with the idea of 'KING' planted into his mind stopped this. The witches and his wife may have started his descent, but Macbeth only caused his own downfall in the end. He went from loyal noblemen to mad king in a few short days. In short, due to his own decisions, Macbeth's willingness to follow someone else, his own ambition destroyed him, and his twisted mind led to his demise.

Literary Devices


Foil isn't needed to write a story; however, good stories involve foil characters. Foil is a character who is the polar opposite of another character; it allows readers to compare characters, and displays the difference in the characters attitudes, good features, bad features, and lifestyles. One very obvious foil character in "Macbeth" was King Edward. Malcolm introduced King Edward after talking to a doctor about whether Edward will come to Scotland. Malcolm explains to a confused Macduff who King Edward is, describing him as one of the most graced people to walk the Earth; Edward is a direct contrast from Macbeth, who is a horrid ruler and murdering tyrant. According to Malcolm, Edward has gifts from God entailing many things, like healing touch : "'Tis called the evil. A most miraculous work in this good king, Which often since my here-remain in England I have seen him .... He hath a heavenly gift of prophecy, And sundry blessings hang about his throne, That speak him full of grace. " (Macbeth 4.3.148-61). With Edward as the foil character readers can really get a look at how "Macbeth" characters react different between him and Macbeth. In short, foil it gives insight the contrast in characters, and how other characters react to them.

Comic Relief

Although comic relief may seem cheesy and unnecessary, it helps relieve tension and give readers a break from what is going on in the story. Comic relief is a character or a scene which purposely funny and often occurs during a serious moment. In "Macbeth" the Porter, who answers the gate after the murder of Duncan occurred, serves as the comic relief for act 2, relieving tension from a heavy scene where Macbeth is losing his mind. He tells stories of gatekeepers from hell and the effects of alcohol, both designed to make the audience/reader laugh : "Knock, knock, knock! Who’s there, i' th' name of Beelzebub? Here’s a farmer that hanged himself on the expectation of plenty. Come in time, have napkins enough about you, here you’ll sweat for ’t." (Macbeth 2.3.3). In the end comic relief isn't essential for a book or play; however, it brings a bit of lightheartedness to a scene that is dark or saddening.


Soliloquy isn't often seen in regular chapter books; even though, it gives a great insight to what the character is thinking. A soliloquy is when a character voices their thoughts or feelings out loud, mostly when they think they're alone. In "Macbeth" one of the better known soliloquy is when a dagger appears before Macbeth and he starts to talk to himself. The dagger prompts Macbeth to question his sanity, then address the soon-to-be death of King Duncan : " Or art thou but A dagger of the mind, a false creation, Proceeding from the heat-oppressèd brain?" (Macbeth 2.1.38-40)- " It is the bloody business which informs Thus to mine eyes" ( Macbeth 2.1.48-49). Macbeth's mini speech displays the inner workings of his mind and the slow transition to the realization of what he's about to do. Soliloquy isn't necessary, but it allows a deeper analysis of a character.

Piece of Art

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The above symbolises how Macbeth caused his own downfall with how the people are cutting themselves down. In "Macbeth" he cuts himself down by becoming overconfident and letting his guard down after talking to the witches for the second time. The first apparition tells him to fear Macduff; however, he already knew that Macduff would be a problem. The second apparition tells Macbeth something that boosts his confidence ," Laugh to scorn The power of man, for none of woman born Shall harm Macbeth." ( Macbeth 4.4. 81-83). Thinking Macduff was born of a woman only serves Macbeth false confidence, and it is greatly boosted by the third apparition telling him that the woods will move up the hill. After hearing all three prophecies he lets his guard down thinking the third truth is completely impossible, leading him to bring forth his own demise like in the artwork above.


Animal I Have Become : Three Days Grace
Three Days Grace-Animal I Have Become Lyrics
Although it might not seem completely relevant to "Macbeth", this song relates to how Lady Macbeth finally broke down. It shows this when she starts sleep walking; she can't escape the death of Duncan, reliving it over and over again, much like what the song describes. The murder of Duncan changed her into a completely different person, and soon it becomes so overwhelming she dies; although, the singer does not talk about dying, they do talk about how they have changed and no one can help them. Lady Macbeth sleepwalking also parallels when the singer talks about not being able to control themselves, like she can't control her sleepwalking. In conclusion the song parallels the time period after the murder of Duncan, and Lady Macbeth is slowly losing herself.